Article: Speak Easy

Want To Own Your Dwelling?  Go Socialist with Michael BoturWant To Own Your Dwelling?  Go Socialist with Michael Botur

As I’ve said before, I try to hold onto precisely 100 Facebook friends so that I can exploit them from time to time to glean statistical data. For example, If two of my Facebook friends thought ‘Justice League’ was a great film, then just two percent of the population thinks ‘Justice League’ is a great film.

My perfect friend sample, I hope, tells us a little bit about home ownership.

• Looking at my friends, one percent of the population lives on a boat in Tanzania
but still calls Whangarei home.
• One percent of the population is a stand up comedian with no car, living in a
hostel, who won’t own a home until he’s 70.
• Four percent of the population lives in an apartment in Sydney, Auckland, Boston
or Belgrade.

…And a good thirty percent of the population own the place they live in. That’s a small percentage. Now, I’m as surprised as you are that sampling data from my friends doesn’t quite match up with the real NZ homeownership rate, which indicates somewhere around 63.2 percent of people own the home they live in (63.2 was the 2013 percentage, and we won’t have any fresher statistics until Census 2018).

Our low rate of home ownership isn’t the lowest ever – that occurred around 1951, when ownership rates dipped to just over 61 percent – but the rate has been as high as 73 percent (it was 73 percent, or more, during 1986-1991).
I’ll save dwelling on the reasons for low homeownership til another column. For now, it’s useful to look at our 63.2 percent ownership rate and compare ourselves to countries around the world.

The United States and United Kingdom have about the same rate of ownership as NZ, (63-64 percent). It’s 67 percent in Australia.

There are a few countries, however, where well over 90 percent of people own the home they live in. Allow me to generalise somewhat: they’re a bunch of pinko commie socialist countries –with one exception (which is still sorta socialist).

The countries with the highest homeownership rates are Cuba, China, Slovakia, and Romania. Singapore, which apparently was founded on socialist principles but as we all know is now a free-market capitalist hub, is a bit different.

Lee Kuan Yew, who ruled 1959 to 1990, believed promoting widespread home ownership could give citizens a stake in the country. The government acquired 90 percent of Singapore’s territory and encouraged its population – which is just slightly larger than NZ, at 5.6 million – to move into concrete high-rises.

So there’s the rub: all these countries have found a compromise between ownership rate and quality of dwelling. Basically, in NZ, we have more freedom to push huge amounts of value, and therefore price, into our dwellings and sections. We also have the freedom to neglect home ownership and upkeep. In Singapore, they don’t have that freedom.

In Singapore, the country’s Housing and Development Board and Central Provident Fund get the 20 percent of income which must be saved each month (employers must contribute a further 17%) used as a deposit on an HDB apartment. Mortgages are cheap, and while the apartment towers are drab, they’re clean, spacious, safe, so I’ve read, and the country has a healthy economy. Also, its people have a higher life expectancy than New Zealanders, at about 82.6 years. I reckon my standup comedian friend should move there. Maybe when he’s 82 he can get himself a place. 

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.

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